I believe in single gender education fo adolescent girls. I believe in it so much that I’ve spent a good part of my life in an environment where it exists. I’ve been a student, a teacher, a school psychologist, and a president in an all-girls’ Academy.
One day some time ago I was listening to a a psychiatrist speak on radio about the issues of young girls, especially those in high school. I recognized the problems well: lack of self-esteem; seeing one’s self as less competent than the boys in class, especially in math and science; assuming that leadership roles in school activities were unrealizable dreams; lowered goals and expectations for future careers. The therapist being interviewed described the way she moved her young patients through these issues. She led them, she said, to fantasize wht it would be like were they to be able to lead. I responded aloud in a comment I wished she could hear: “Why not suggest they go to a place where this isn’t fantasy, but reality?”
An all-girls’ high school is that place. Top students in each class, leaders of every club, editors of school publications, outstanding athletes are girls. It’s simple math; there aren’t any boys around, so opportunities are doubled. And what happens as a result? I’ll only allude to adolescent brain development and test scores and statistics of the number of prominent women who are products of single gender education. You can read that very convincing data. I’d rather share stories about people I’ve known.
There’s Janey, who went on to a large state school for her college years. When she came back to visit, she spoke of both initial concerns and actual experience. “I had expected to take time adjusting,” she said, “but I found I was the only girl who volunteered in class and entered discussions. Pretty soon I was urging the other girls to speak out.”
On this same theme, a professor friend in women’s studies at a local university described the “test” she gave herself early each semester. Without researching any student’s background, she went around her class, naming which of the women had gone to a single gender high school. She was never wrong. These students asked her what gave her the clue. “You’re the ones who expect to be listened to,” she would respond.
And then there’s Julie. She’s currently in her first year at a coed college where three male lab partners initially took over leadership in the chemistry laboratory, assuming she was neither equipped to do experiments nor coordinate the group’s work. Despite their ridiculing remarks, she has succeeded in communicating her capablilities. However, she regrets that much learning time needed to be spend teaching these young men that all four of them are equal. In a recent email to a high school teacher she said she now knows more clearly than ever the “why” of her all girls’ high school.
Each year as the Academy president, when I handed diplomas to our graduates and shook their confident hands, I recalled the fourteen-year-olds they had been and celebrated the experiences that had formed them. I knew they were ready for life; they had found their voices and planted their feet in their own soil. They would more than survive; they would thrive.
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